It could be a scene off a Louisiana postcard with lush landscaping and Spanish moss, but it's part of Scott Morse's Plaquemines Parish backyard. His driveway, which used to be lined with tall, manicured hedges, leads to the hidden gem in Jesuit Bend.
Morse was shocked though in January when the hedges that had provided his family with privacy from Belle Chasse Middle School next door for years had been mowed down.
"My hedges, the whole thing is cleared out. The ditch is dug, and it's done. We had a 400-foot hedge line all the way down," explained Morse, who estimates it's around $8,000 worth of landscaping if he were to re-plant the entire hedge line.
The hedges ran between his driveway and a ditch, which drains the main Highway 23 and septic tanks from nearby properties. The parish says it needed to dig the ditch for better drainage flow, so it asked five property owners who live along the ditch to sign a drainage permit, giving crews the right of way to use their driveway to get the job done. The permit says "the excavation or sweeping out of lateral drainage ditches is necessary and important to the community and public in general."
Morse OK'd it, but under one condition.
"I don't remember exactly how I worded it, but basically said if your plan is to take my hedges up, you're not granted the right to the driveway," Morse said.
Next to his signature on the permit he wrote in part, "owner does not permit Plaquemines Parish to degrade, remove, trim, operate machinery on top of or excavate the aesthetic fence line that lines the driveway side."
According to Tulane property law professor Sally Brown Richardson, if a parish government has a public reason to take down a resident's landscaping, the parish can, but it must compensate the resident.
Five months later, in late June, it didn't appear that there had been any maintenance on the ditch.
"Zero. Nothing. What you see now is what's been since," Morse said.
Weeds shot several feet high out of the ditch and along his driveway. Morse took his frustration to social media, to the parish president and the administration, but says he could never get answers.
"If you're gonna do something wrong, fix it. We all make mistakes, but this is wrong, and nobody's acting on it, " explained Morse.
Out of options, he turned to the FOX 8 Defenders.
We noticed other nearby ditches didn't look much better than the one on Morse's property, and the day after our initial request for answers, Parish President Amos Cormier III was on a tractor himself, cutting a levee in the area.
"Simply we have over 400 miles of grass to cut, maintain levees, and we just don't have the manpower at the time to accomplish the job. Just like the state, we're experiencing the downturn. The effects, decrease in revenue from the oil and gas downturn," Cormier said.
After the FOX 8 Defenders sent a second and third request for answers to the parish and made several phone calls, Morse captured images of a parish employee cutting the ditch that had been growing out of control for months.
"If you have houses, which you have a whole lane of them where this gentleman (Morse) lives, they're all septic tanked, so if we don't get that water moving and getting out of there, you're letting this kind of questionable water sit right next to an elementary school," explained Peter Barbee, Plaquemines Parish attorney.
Barbee told us it was a public health and safety action that the director of operations had to take.
"He (Stanley Wallace, Parish Dir. of Operations) was under the opinion there was no way you could clean that ditch without moving hedges, and after he came back, talked to the legal department twice, looked at this and said well they should be on our servitude."
Barbee pointed to a 2001 survey of the land.
"I'm not a surveyor. All I can do is go off of what I have to work with, you know, his title description and everything to me says his land ends at the side of the road," Barbee said.
However, Morse got a different opinion when he had a surveyor check the property shortly after the hedges were cut. The surveyor says the stakes with yellow tape in the ground in an image Morse shared mark Morse's official property line, which he says is in the middle of the ditch.
"If he's got a survey that says we went on his property and that surveyor wants to come talk with me, I'll be happy to chat with him, and if we improperly did it, that's another discussion," Barbee explained.
Morse tells us after months of trying to get his concern resolved on his own, he's now got a meeting with the parish attorney Barbee. We'll stay on top of this consumer concern, and let you know the outcome of that meeting.
The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women or NCJW field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397, or you can fill out an online complaint form.
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